Let’s Differentiate Guinuine Agitation From Criminality – Ijonama

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Only recently some deserving sons and daughters of Obolo Kingdom were honoured for their roles in the development of the area. The speaker of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) who also doubles as the President of Andoni Youth Coalition, Rt. Hon. Mkpon Ijonama gave an insight into why they did that, government developmental efforts in Andoni, amnesty programme in Niger Delta and more.
He spoke to The Tide Political Editor, Victor Tew. Exerpts.
You were in the news recently for organising an award ceremony in honour of some distinguished sons and daughter of Andoni. Is that the only thing you say you have achieved as an activist?
I am an Andoni man who has served in the capacity of
a youth leader in the Ijaw nation and I have seen how my other brothers from other zones like the Eastern zone, central zone and the Western zone have been using the platform of youth leadership to drive development and a cordial relationship between the government and the NGOs to the common people and their communities. So I felt I should duplicate such thing in my own community. And you will agree with me that Andoni has been on a security watch where youths have been agitating for development in Andoni. What may be the remote cause of under development in Andoni? Do we really have people who would have changed the lives of the Obolo people if the opportunity is being given to them? The level we are today as the Obolo people, are we really part of Rivers State or part of Akwa Ibom or part of Nigeria? Do we have anything to lay hands on? Some personalities in Andoni have tried as much as they can to attract the attention of government and development to our place but enough opportunity was not given to them.
Some youths in the Niger Delta emulate criminality more than any other people. They believe in government giving amnesty and money. If you shoot gun today, companies operating in your area will give you money. It means gradually we are killing the level of education; we are killing creativity and changing that mindset is a project which requires bringing back the glory of those people who spent time working on the progress and development of Andoni. We need to bring these people back to educate the younger ones. So, the idea of giving out an award arose. We said let’s bring them back to say you have done extremely well.
So who is to blame?
Our generation is to blame, our system has changed. It means we have to develop ourselves, change our orientation towards the positives and you can see that we have given people awards and we are talking about people that have done extremely well, though some of our politicians have tried but we are talking about people that have done above average.
How would you assess the Unity Road project?
As much as I know, construction work on the unity road in Andoni, is very slow.
If that road is completely constructed, then 60% of the problems in Andoni would have been solved. The economy of Andoni will be greatly improved if that road has been done successfully because the road is supposed to link Ngo and Oyorokoto. So, anybody sitting on this project, whatever the name of the contractor maybe, is the enemy of the Obolo people and it is the sole responsibility of the state government to monitor that project because you cannot send your son to school without asking for result at the end of the term.
As a youth leader, what extent have you gone to tackle the issue of under development in Andoni?
When you come out in a place where one man’s view is all and all, you use intellectual means to achieve your aims. By this I mean using the social media to reach out to the governor, to reach out to the President and everyone involved in this development issue. We have written series of letters to different places including the Rivers State House of Assembly, and the National Assembly. We even have a fresh petition to defend next week in the Senate concerning the issue of under development in Andoni, especially on contract jobs that have been awarded to some persons but not carried out. We have over 10 petitions written by Andoni Youth Coalition.
As an Ijaw Youth Council speaker, are you satisfied with the human capacity development in terms of youth development in Niger Delta?
Governors in the region are building roads but the issue of unemployment has been on a low key. Many troublesome youths have been granted amnesty but not really engaged in any form of work because an idle man is the devil’s workshop. If these youths are engaged, the crime rate would be low. Anambra State has the lowest crime rate because everyone is busy there.
And in regards to the physical development in the state, the Governor Wike is trying. We just want the development to be even. The Andoni road project requires a very good company to handle. So I think our leaders can do more for the Andoni people.
We have the mindset of our youths towards criminality. So in that aspect of development, we have failed ourselves and we don’t need government to do it. We need to restructure ourselves to see the way forward, and the way forward is not by shooting guns.
As the speaker of IYC, how well have you impacted on the youth?
Well, I have impacted in so many ways, we all know that in youth activism, you only influence the provision of certain things. That I have done so much. I have provided potable water in Ngo, better than what the state government has ever given to Ngo.
Did you do this with your personal money?
No, I didn’t, I only used the influence of my office to attract these things to my area. Under the platform I am representing now in Andoni, yearly we do go to schools and pay students’ school fees and give out notebooks just to encourage them to study. We are currently working on a magazine for the Obolo people which will be out every three months for people to be updated with happenings in Andoni. In the next two weeks the first edition will be out.
As an IYC leader, how will you want the government to address the development problems in the Niger Delta?
Government needs to be more cautious. For a country that has a constitution, someone will kill innocent people for no reason, and instead of enforcing justice on that person, the government will grant him amnesty and pay him millions of naira. Someone who does not have the least school certificate becomes a multi-millionaire through crime. What impression are we creating for our youths? Hence, they are asking the upcoming children to indulge in crime and get amnesty. These days, we can’t differentiate between cultists and militants because they are all practising criminality. When the agitation of the Niger Delta started, they never attacked anybody in the street, rather they only targeted federal government facilities just to attract attention to Niger Delta. But now, what are these youths agitating for? Killing innocent people. When we differentiate genuine agitation from criminality, we would have solved the problems facing us.
Are you against government negotiating with any genuine militants?
First of all, we should be able to differentiate between the genuine militants and cultists. The militants agitate and fight for the welfare of the Niger Delta people while the cultists are criminally minded people going against the law and attacking innocent people.
Instead of giving amnesty, the criminals should be put behind bars. Genuine militants and their agitations have benefitted the Niger Delta people but the activities of the criminals haven’t helped in anyway. Rather, it has given a false impression to our youths. Government should differentiate between genuine agitators and criminals. As a youth leader, the only power I have is to preach to these youths, let them embrace more of education and give peace a chance so that foreign investors can come and invest in our land. Government on its part has the capacity to create youth empowerment programme so that these youths will not engage in crime.
What is the way forward?
My general advice is peace. Without peace, there will be no development in Andoni; without peace, the companies handling the contracts in Andoni will not be able to carry out their projects; without peace, instead of the companies to engage our people, the money will be used to enlist the services of more security to protect the few lives in the place. So, peace is paramount, it’s fundamental. Without peace, we can’t get good things.
What development plan have you drawn out for your people?
We are currently partnering with a television channel in Ghana, IFN TV, just to run documentaries on the Andoni people and her rich heritage and the Andoni Youth Coalition is the brain behind this partnership. Tourism is our biggest project. We were supposed to travel to Dubai but we were given conditions that will consume over N1 million.